The Grandmaster

Rated 4.0

The elegantly stylish martial arts meditation The Grandmaster ostensibly portrays the prelegend life of Ip Man, the Wing Chun master who famously taught Bruce Lee. However, those expecting a factory-assembled biopic—or a traditional kung fu film—don't know Chinese auteur Wong Kar-wai very well, do they? With The Grandmaster, Kar-wai lays out the entire history of China's competing martial arts schools, touching at length on their role in Sino-Japanese War-era internecine political struggles. Fortunately, he does it by staging one awesome fight scene after another, emphasizing closeness in combat and building to an epic train-station sequence that is the best 10 minutes of film I've seen this year. Kar-wai also elicits grand movie-star performances from Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Ziyi Zhang, whose silent-filmworthy faces distract from the herky-jerky plot lurches and repetitive camera moves.